African Wildlife at Out of Africa

For Visitors of all Ages

On a hot day in July, Boom Boom, a rescued Southern White rhinoceros, takes a nap under a large mesquite tree; Echo, a gray wolf, anxiously awaits a fresh chicken treat from a caregiver’s hand, black bear Payson stands up and begs for her supper, and Chipa, a spotted hyena, is enjoying a misting. All around, hundreds of other mammals are dipping themselves in wallows, stepping into water containers, sleeping or lazily walking around. It’s a typical summer day at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona.

Nearly 400 exotic animals, many endangered and threatened species (including large land predators), have found refuge and a dignified life in the heart of Arizona’s ranch country. They feel safe and at home. And they are treated with respect.

The animals live on a 104­-acre wilderness preserve, which has a high­desert environment similar to the Masai region of Africa. Unlike a zoo, where animals are squeezed into small enclosures, here residents can roam freely in spacious, natural habitats. Species that are not normally paired in other wildlife situations in captivity live comfortably together in Out of Africa, such as an old tiger with a pride of lions.

The animals have a developed a close relationship with their caregivers, who try to see life through the animals’ eyes. It’s part of the park’s philosophy to anticipate the animal’s needs so they are not frustrated, afraid or bored.

Staff go out of their way to make the animals comfortable. Debbie, our tram guide, came up with the idea of misting Chipa and of bringing in dog hair for “an enrichment experience.” The hyenas sniffed and rolled around in the hair, obviously appreciative of the gift.

Visiting the park is a memorable experience for visitors of all ages, but especially for families. Children delight in seeing the animals up close, taking pictures and observing their behavior in the park’s two popular unrehearsed shows—the predator feed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (800 pounds of raw meat devoured by carnivores) and the giant snake show on Thursdays and Saturdays, featuring anacondas, boas and pythons. Park visitors can come up and touch the snakes! Both shows take place at 3 p.m.

The park has two primary tours, which are a wildlife photographer’s dream come true:

The African Bush Safari a 45­minute adventure, designed after an authentic African Photo Safari. It encourages personal encounters with giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, ostriches and other hoofed animals. “The giraffe just came right up and licked my face,” said one excited visitor.

The Wildlife Preserve is an educational hour­long tram or trolley tour, which circles the large­habitat homes of lions, tigers, wolves, hyena, bears, mountain lions and other predators. Unobstructed photo decks are the perfect staging for an unforgettable photograph of the park’s majestic animals. “It’s like seeing them in the wild,” said a visitor from Washington, DC.

For an additional fee, Out of Africa offers Behind the Scenes VIP Tours. These personalized excursions around the park are conducted by Dean and Prayeri Harrison, founders and owners of Out of Africa, or expert caretakers. The VIP tour also includes lunch and hands­-on animal encounters.

Coming soon is the Tiger Splash arena, where tigers will frolic in the water with their caregivers and colorful toys. This was Out of Africa’s most popular show when the park was located in Fountain Hills, 90 miles south of its present location. In 2004, the park lost its lease on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation and reopened in Camp Verde. Fortunately, the new site is more than six times larger and a few degrees cooler.

For more information, visit outofafricapark.com or call (928) 567­2840. Article by Sylivia Somerville